Keeping Traditions Alive

My family’s Thanksgiving has changed dramatically over the years. When I was little, we always made the 2 hour trek to New Hampshire to spend the day with my grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins. It was always a fun day, filled with memories of Mémère (my grandmother) and the moms cooking, the kids playing throughout the 3 floors of the tenement building my grandmother owned, the dads talking sports, and the bustle of a house full of happy activity.

Unfortunately, things change – loved ones pass on, people divorce, kids grow up and move away, and family dynamics change. My mother and I both married in 2000 – with only a month between our weddings. Suddenly, I found myself with in-laws, a step-father, a step-brother, and two step-sisters. Thanksgiving was still in New Hampshire, but the feeling was just…different.

When Mémère passed away several years ago, my mother tried to fill her shoes and hosted Thanksgiving at her house. It was nice, but it just wasn’t the same; and as much as she hated to admit it, she really didn’t enjoy all the cooking. To complicate things further, after I had married, we began to try to see both sides of our family on the same day as no one wanted to give up their traditional day. What had begun as one of my favorite holidays was suddenly a stressful mess of hurried travel.

My sister gave hosting Thanksgiving dinner a shot, but she too didn’t enjoy the cooking, the mess and the stress of it all. That’s when they approached me and asked if I would mind taking a shot at being the “Thanksgiving Mom”.

To be completely honest, I had been hoping they would ask, and jumped at the chance. I’ve been known to cook large, elaborate dinners, and I thoroughly enjoy filling the bellies of those I care about.

I decided to keep it simple, and since my step-siblings all had other places to go, I kept the invitations down to my mother and step-father, my sister, brother-in-law and niece, and my in-laws. I couldn’t have asked for things to go more smoothly. The guys all watched football, while the kids played together throughout the house, and the moms all helped me in the kitchen. I have since been voted the permanent “Thanksgiving Mom”.

I’ve often been asked how I cook a huge meal for so many people without turning into a quivering ball of stress. Here are some of the answers.

  • I don’t worry about the fact that our house is a “work in progress”. We bought a fixer-upper, and our family knows we’re constantly working on things, and that money is an issue, so I really just don’t think about it. The most important aspect of our house is the space.
  • I let the adults decide where they want to sit. There are currently 2 5-year-olds and an 8-month-old with us on Thanksgiving (2 of them are mine), and the big kids get their own table, while the baby sits in a booster or high-chair next to mom and dad.
  • If someone asks if they can make and bring a dish, I assign them something.
  • All our parties are BYOB. My mother and step-father don’t drink, but hubby and I imbibe once in a while, and my mother-in-law loves wine with dinner.
  • I may follow my grandmother’s example and rent a table and some chairs. You can rent an extra 6′ table and 6 chairs for less than $25 a day, so worries about having enough seating simply disappear.
  • I don’t go crazy with side dishes or desserts. While the vast variety of side dishes and the dessert table were always favorites at my grandmother’s house, there just aren’t enough people at this point to validate making more than a handful of side dishes and a couple of pies. (Oh, and we can’t forget the kisses! It’s a long-standing family tradition!)
  • If someone wants to help you in the kitchen – let them – even if it’s just getting you ingredients or utensils you need.
  • Don’t over-do the decorations. A simple centerpiece for the dinner table and some splashes of color here and there are all you need.
  • Most important – have fun! Don’t get so wrapped up in the details and making sure everything is perfect, or you won’t be able to enjoy the holiday.
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  1. Dee Ann Rice says:


    Traditions are fun until things change. We have had that experience also.

    Then it is time to change traditions. We are still struggling to set new traditions as things change.

    I am glad you have made the changes and are happy with them. It sounds like things are going really good.

    Dee Ann

  2. Anne says:

    I wish I could host Thanksgiving. My daughter has food allergies and this is the first year we are living with it. If I could host, I would be able to make everything friendly for her. Unfortunately, my sister-in-law wants to host so I am worried that I am going to have to make an entire dinner and bring it to NY. It would be so much easier if I could just cook at home.

    • Cheryl says:

      Oh wow – I understand that! Is there no way you can ask your sister-in-law if she’s allowing for your daughter’s food allergy?